The Kerala government on Thursday made it clear that the prohibitory orders imposed at the Sabarimala temple cannot be withdrawn now, even as the 'Satyagraha' by three opposition UDF MLAs at the state Assembly against the curbs, entered its fourth day.
The lawmakers--V S Sivakumar (Congress), Parakkal Abdullah (Indian Union Muslim League) and N Jayaraj (Kerala Congress-Mani)-- had launched the indefinite 'Satyagraha' on December 3 demanding lifting of prohibitory orders at Sabarimala and providing more facilities to the pilgrims.
State Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran said in the Assembly that the CPM-led Left Democratic Front government was not adamant in facilitating the entry of young women at the hilltop temple and it would not have been difficult to take thousands of such women there, if it had really wanted.
He was replying to a question on the Sabarimala issue raised by independent MLA and Janapaksham leader, P C George. The Left government was bound to implement the September 28 Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all age groups into the Lord Ayyappa shrine, Mr Surendran said, adding they had no plan to bring out any legislation regarding the entry of women of traditionally barred age group of 10-50 years there.
Amid a war of words with opposition members, Mr Surendran informed the House that Section 144 imposed at Sannidhanam (the temple complex) and the premises was not against devotees, but to regulate "anti-socials" who attempted to indulge in violence.
Referring to the incidents of alleged violence unleashed by the right-wing activists in the garb of protesting against the implementation of the verdict, the minister said the "RSS had run riot in Sabarimala" and the restrictions were to ensure that such incidents were not repeated.
"Pilgrims have not faced any hardship due to the invoking of Section 144 so far. It is not against devotees, but only to regulate anti-socials. There is no way to withdraw the prohibitory orders now," Mr Surendran said. He rejected the UDF charge that the government had interfered in the functioning and powers of the Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), the apex temple body which manages the Lord Ayyappa shrine.
Regarding the controversy over awarding the 'annadanam' (free meal) contract at Sabarimala to an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) outfit, he said cutting across political lines, several individuals and outfits had been contributing rice and provisions for the scheme.
"The TDB cannot take into account politics while accepting rice for annadanam," he said. The minister also reiterated the government's stand that the 'tantri' (hereditary head priest) of the Sabarimala temple was one among over 6,000 employees of the TDB.
"The tantri can act only in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Board," Mr Surendran added. Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala sought Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan's intervention to end the United Democratic Front MLA's 'Satyagraha', for which the latter gave assurance.